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August 31, 2004

end of august: farewell to the peach season


This summer, as you might have noticed, I have gotten a lot of peaches and nectarines and used them a lot in dessert (sorbet, tart, fruit salad, and custard), while I did just eat straight out (like these). This was partly because peaches/nectarines were available at a lot more reasonable price here when compared to Japan, where they would be sort of the luxury, and also because I found a lots of unfamiliar kinds and breeds and wanted to try them.

While it may seem as if I've had enough, there was another thing that I made using peach and did not blog, which I thought might be just appropriate to mention here to wrap up the month: peach cordial.

I found the recipe towards the end of July when browsing websites. First, the name "Peach, Honey and Cardamom Wine Cordial" which precisely describes its ingredients, caught my eyes; peach and cardamom, a combination that I had never tried before, yet somehow sounded attractive.
The procedure was very simple but time-consuming, as it would take you at least five days to get it ready to drink. While I usually like something that I make and eat right away, I also enjoy to take time to let my food "ripen" and cherish the time and results. I had already made up my mind to try that out.

The recipe called for "5 large, ripe peaches" and did not specify whether they be yellow or white. From what I have seen in this country, it seemed like "peaches" would usually refer to yellow ones, but I decided to use white peaches as I like them better.

It was a wrong decision, as I would be learning later, because the overall quality of white peach available in here isn't very consistent and I actually ended up having to discard two of the five peaches because they were partly unripe and stone hard whereas other part had gotten rotten. I added one peach of different kind and secured four peaches. Good enough.

I used a cheap bottle of Aussie chardonnay as a base; I could have used more fancy one, but I thought this should be okay. It was after opening the bottle and poured it over the peeled peaches in a jar when I took a lick of the wine and figured it wasn't exactly a dry wine; well, it was too late, so I went on to the next step by throwing in cardamom pods. I almost doubled the number of pods, but resisted - after four days of steeping, it might get too much, I told myself.


Since the peaches were supposed to be completely covered in the wine but mine weren't, I placed a small piece of parchment paper with a cross on the surface of the wine so that the peaches wouldn't directly contact the air. That was it for Day 1, and I put the jar of wine and peach on a corner of the kitchen counter to let sit overnight before putting it in the fridge.


During the four days and nights of sitting, I would take the jar out of the fridge and watched and smelled the wine now and then. The color or smell didn't seem to be changing much, at least not so noticeably.

In the morning of Day 6, I strained the wine into a pan for the final step: mixing in honey and vodka. I was supposed to use Italian honey according to the recipe, but I had never seen such a thing ever in any of my local stores, so I just used Hawaiian white honey. Because the delicate white honey would radically change its flavor when heated (or so it said on the label), I just warmed up the wine a bit and removed it from heat, then added the honey (in a bit reduced amount than the recipe since the white wine was rather sweet) to dissolve. Strained once again and finished up with a dose of vodka, my cordial was looking nice and smelling lovely.


After chilled several hours in the fridge, we tried small glasses of it in the evening. The flavors of peach and cardamom were very subtle and he didn't figure what was in it, except for vodka which had been added at the very end of the process and still left its distinct sharpness in the drink. I would have liked it even better had it been more of peach and cardamom taste, but it was still nice and sweet, and you might see its subtleness as "discreet".

We kept the cordial in the fridge and took a glass or two now and then during August. The taste definitely developed over time and got substantially milder after a couple of weeks. I think I like that way better, even though he would joke it around calling it "peach juice" and requesting me to boost it up with additional vodka (which I didn't). It was a fun summer project.


It was also a nice occasion to use a pair of Bohemian crystals that my mother had given to me. She got a set of six glasses with a carafe when we went to Prague earlier this year, and gave away one pair to my sister and her husband, and another to us, saying she would only need two for her home. I usually like glasses plain simple the best, but those were a bit special to me.

pina colada out of the oven (sort of)


Tuesday, August 31

When I made another batch of chiffon cake for our roadtrip to Kona the last weekend, I meant to make pina colada chiffon cake. With a fresh memory of my recent not-so-successful batch of pina colada muffins, I had decided not to use fresh pineapple in baking cakes. A friend of ours, however, gave us a handsome pineapple the other day and it had been here waiting to be consumed or used for something.

Seeing my pineapple ripens day by day, I decided to give another try to pina colada muffins. While he doesn't like fresh pineapple (or most other fresh fruits, really) and I can't handle a whole pineapple just by myself, both of us love the pineapple-coconut cocktail a lot. That is why it seemed better to me to use the pineapple in baking. This time, however, I cooked the pineapple before throwing it in the cake, remembering that the fresh pineapple flesh had tasted rather bland in cakes in my attempt. I cut up the pineapple into small pieces and cooked them in their own juice just for a few minutes; I didn't add sugar as the pineapple was pretty sweet itself and it wasn't for long-term storing like in a case of jam/preserves.

Originally I was going to make the muffins again. But as I had been in a mood of trying out a lot of chiffon cakes, I thought: why not pina colada chiffon cake?

I basically used the same recipe as the last time and also looked up recipes for pineapple and coconut chiffon cakes on the same website (in Japanese), put them together and modified a bit; I used coconut milk and rum instead of water, and added a conservative amount of small pieces of pineapple and toasted grated coconuts; although I tend to be very generous in putting "flavoring stuff" in cooking - meaning, if I make lemon cake I would want it REALLY lemony so I would put a lot of lemon zest and juice, for example - I exercised my self-control not to do so with this particular kind of cake, as chiffon cake are known to fail with overdosing of mix-ins because it is too light and soft to hold much of solid ingredients, in this case pineapple chunks and maybe grated coconuts.

The cakes turned out a little firmer than last time, supposedly because of the use of coconut milk instead of water (they were really really light and fluffy last time). Even so, the cakes had a unmistakably lighter texture than most other cakes and very tasty, too, although not having so much noticeable flavor of pina colada... we couldn't taste rum at all, which made them more like "pineapple and coconut cake", rather than pina colada cake. Too bad.

I had planned to graze and top the cakes with more pineapple and coconuts to boost the flavor, but I ended up taking plain cakes along on the day we went to Kona, partly because I thought the cakes wouldn't hold heavy toppings for a very long time (and mostly because I didn't have time to do it before leaving home). Yet as we still have some leftover cakes in the fridge, I decided to do something with them today, this time at home.

Since the cakes were made in paper cups, they naturally had a shape of the tall cups. This brought me to come up with an idea - make them look like real pina colada in a tall glass, or at least a reminder of it.

I scraped out the top of a cake and made a cavity. In it I put ice cream, and drizzled with frozen pineapple chunks (I had stored the leftover of cooked pineapple) and toasted grated coconuts, then stuck a straw, or a pineapple-flavored pretzel into the cake. I should have boozed it up with a dash of rum, but forgot; the cake still looked pretty, even if it did not exactly look or taste like a glass of pina colada.


(And, hey, I'm not done with the seriese of chiffon-cake making projects yet; you can't get out of it that easy!)

August 30, 2004

the longer the better?


Monday, August 30

I had found this superlong spaghetti called "SLIM-ETTI" ages ago at one of my local natural food stores, and had since wondered if I should get a bag every time I went to that store. As I kept stopping at the same spot and pick up one bag and then put it back, he suggested I should get one - yes, it was very simple advice, but the thing was, we don't have a big deep pot large enough to cook regular spaghetti, let alone the extra-long ones. I would sometime simply break noodles into half so that they would safely fit in our small pot, but then, what is the whole point to have longer-than-regular noodles?? Other than being extraordinarily long, the SLIM-ETTI were nothing but plain spaghetti.

After about five times of going back to the same spot, I finally made up my mind to purchase one of them. Yay.

Then I was idly wondering what kind of sauce to pair with this pasta. After all, other than it was ridiculously long it was regular spaghetti, so anything should go with it - like our all-time favorite pesto genovese.

The picture on the front cover of the latest issue of Williams-Sonoma catalogue that regularly comes in the mailbox happened to be of penne with Basil-Lemon Pesto that I had seen on their website and meant to make one of these day, so for a moment this one seemed to be the winner of today. I figured, however, we were running out of pine nuts at this moment - okay, next please.

As I was browsing on their website I came across with another pesto recipe, one using arugula. Luckily we had a bag of fresh local arugula from the farmers' market in the fridge. Now I knew what we were having for dinner today.

I had seen commercially available jars of arugula pesto, but this was my first time actually eating (and making) one myself. The process was as easy as making regular basil pesto and in a matter of ten or fifteen minutes the pesto was ready.

Now it was the fun part: cooking the ultra-long spaghetti in the small pan. Actually it wasn't a big problem at all; once I put one end of a bunch of noodles, they got tender immediately (quicker than regular spaghetti, I'd say) and let the rest of pasta smoothly sink in the boiling water. I shouldn't have even worried about it, really.

Arugula appeared to fade its color to a far lesser degree than basil leaves, as my pesto stayed bright green all the way with the hot noodle on a plate. It reserved the distinct, nutty flavor of fresh arugula. This was such a simple and tasty dish that I would definitely make again.



And by the way, the insanely long spaghetti tasted just as fine as any regular spaghetti; but I am glad I did buy it, or I would have dreamed of it for the rest of my life.

Accompanying the simple pesto dish was a bottle of French apple cider I got in Kona the other day. The bottle caught my eyes with its vivid contrast of yellow and green, and then with its name: bon apple tite. Obviously a pun on French phrase bon apetit with apple, it made me chuckle and this was enough reason to get a bottle for home.


This was non-alcoholic cider and although it tasted good itself, I couldn't help wishing that I could get a real French cidre - I mean, hard cider in my neighborhood.

to the west


Sunday, August 29

We made a day out to the west side of the island today. It had been a while since we both went to Kona the last time, might have been the first time this year. It was one day short of a full-moon day and the weather is always dry and sunny over there, we were expecting a nice day at the beach and a bright moon and stars in the night.

Just the north of the town of Kaiulua-Kona, there was a beach park that he had been talking about. It had been really nice, he said, and it really was; after a rather rough driving out on a rocky, bumpy four-wheel drive road in our compact car, we finally reached a nice sand beach.


The beach was nice enough, I thought, but he suggested that we could go down to a "next" beach which, according to him, should be as nice and less crowded and "15-20 minute walk away". I expected to walk at least 25 minutes, then.

Having walked through the beach, we were now out in an open space. Our goal should be around the distant green spot at the bottom of the road. Looking kind of far.


It wasn't an all the way sunny day, which in fact helped us a lot in walking with nothing to shut out the sunlight on us. It was still pretty hot, and after what seemed like at least 20 minutes or so, we got to the green spot. As I pushed through tall grasses, suddenly I got a view of very bluish blue water amongst the green grass and white sand.


It was really good enough to blow off my little fatigue instantly, and I was glad we made it to the spot. That was where we sat down to have a picnic, watching the ocean and sky. We had sandwiches and some snacks we had brought from home; "sweet summer herb" chips, which is our latest favorite Kettle Chips, along with pineapple-coconut chiffon cakes and double-chocolate mint cookies that I had baked the night before.


The chiffon cakes were the second try of my recent chiffon-cake making project and although tasty they weren't quite as I had hoped them to be (I will be writing about them in a separate post). Cookies, on the other hand, turned out just as good as I had expected; I used a recipe from Neiman Marcus Cookbook (2003, Clarkson Potter), and added some chopped fresh mint leaves. Although it was certainly a recipe for cookies called "Chocolate-Chocolate Cookies" and they did appear to be cookies, the list of ingredients almost looked like ones for a chocolate cake; a lot of chocolate (and chocolate chips) other than cocoa powder, and a relatively small amount of flour - so much so I had decided to forget how much chocolate I had used. The cookies were very rich and chocolate-y (well, they should be) and I thought it was neat the way the cookies looked just so chocolate-y and tasted minty.


It really was a nice spot.


... Yet since there wasn't much of shady space, we were off to the first beach after a while, walking back along the same rocky road under the sun.

There were a bunch of palm trees right at the edge of the first beach. He casually climbed one of them, and because it looked so nice I followed him and climbed it, too. It was a fabulous spot up on the palm tree; there was a nice big shade under the palm leaves, with a view of the beautiful beach and ocean, blown by gentle breeze. What else could I have possibly ask for?



After chilling out on the beach for a while, we headed to the town of Kona and did a little shopping. There we got some drinks and sat down near the beach and watched the sunset. I got myself a half bottle of pineapple wine from Maui, which I thought was decent (he seemed to have liked it a lot, even though he doesn't like fresh pineapple or white wine).
To our surprise it was rainy (it was first time we were caught by a rain in Kona, really) on and off, but watching the sky change its color as the sun sunk into the ocean was nothing but an amazing experience.


And you could tell there was a heavy shower offshore, to the left of where the sun was.



It was too bad that it rained, and we gave up our plan to stay there and camp overnight to watch the moon and star, and headed home. Ironically, the weather was better on the east side where it usually rains a lot, and we got to see the almost full moon brightly shining above the rain forest. We stopped to watch the moon for a while, and got to home. What a hectic day.

five colored little italian


Saturday, August 28
I found Heirloom tomatoes at a store this morning, and thought of Insalata Caprese - a simple beauty made of tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella cheese, and personally, one of the best ways to enjoy good tomatoes. So I got mozzarella and basil too.

My Heirloom tomatoes were of red, purple and yellow each. Contrary to my expectation that they, called "Heirloom", should taste wilder (maybe bitter) than most of common tomatoes, all the three kinds had sweetness in their robust taste.


Delicious as they were, my Caprese made a refreshing and soothing lunch on this lousy hot summer day.

August 29, 2004

real treat


Thursday, August 26

This is a treat from my dear friend and excellent baker Joyce. In the moist, rich cake are beautiful swirls of bitter and aromatic real Japanese green tea. Yummmm.

Notice to the eager bakers who want to try the matcha cake: Joyce in LA, who sent me this cake that she herself had baked, kindly OKd to share her recipe with us all! Here you can find the recipe she has posted for us. Enjoy! (Sep 3, 2004)
- Special thanks to Joyce :D

too rich for souffle


Wednesday, August 25

I had had some leftover fruits in the fridge for a while. They were one of each of white nectarine, regular nectarine, and plum - too little to make something individually, but just right to be used alltogether. So I used them in baked mascarpone custard.

I first found the recipe in Amanda Hesser's book called Cooking for Mr. Latte: a food lover's courtship, with recipes (2003, W.W. Norton & Co.), in which it was called "apricot slump" (Chapter 34). She got the recipe from her mother-in-law, who got the original recipe in a book Under the Tuscan Sun (Frances Mayes, 1997, Broadway) (got it?). As I was reading the recipe in Cooking for Mr. Latte, I was horiffied with the amount of sugar used and coudn't have the courage to try it. Then when I checked the recipe - called Pears in Mascarpone - in the original book (at Amazon: p139), I figured the amount of sugar was one third of that mentioned in Amanda Hesser's book; 1/2 compared to 1 1/2 cups. As the 1/2 cup sugar seemed to make way more sense, I felt relieved and decided to try this one.

Since I felt particularly lazy this afternoon, I couldn't bother to use the oven and instead used a toaster oven. Slicing up the fruits, whipping up the custard, and putting them together in ramekins and threw them in the toaster oven - so easy bleezy.

Probably because I had set the oven temparature pretty low trying not to burn the custard, it took them almost double the time required in the recipe. Other than that, they looked pretty fluffy like souffle in the oven - and immediately started "slumping" at the moment I opened the door of the oven.



Even so, they were tasty right out of the (toaster) oven, still very hot. Being so rich and buttery, that small dessert didn't allow I me to ignore the fact that they were mostly made of butter, cheese, egg yolk, sugar - definitely not a choice for weight watchers (and in the Amanda Hesser's book it was served with ice cream). But highly satisfying, filling dessert for sure.


P.S. It was nice chilled overnight, too - this way, it didn't taste as buttery as it had been when hot. I don't know if that is "better" or not.

August 27, 2004

not just another ordinary cup cake...


Tuesday, August 24

I had an urgent craving for chiffon cake for a while. A friend of mine had been making the cakes every so often and posting their pictures on her blog, and every time I saw one I got increasingly obsessed with the idea of making one myself.
I also wanted to use up fresh herbs that I had bought a while ago - I had already made herb oil, herb vinegar, herb salt, besides using in roasing and grilling - and remembered that I had a recipe for herb chiffon cake. Bingo.

The problem was, I didn't own a chiffon cake pan. Over here it is sold under a more common name, namely angel food cake pan, but either way I could only find a non-stick one (and I would want non non-stick pan for this particular kind of cake, as it is supposed to be cooled down upside down, and the pan needs to hold the cake so that it wouldn't fall off), so I decided to try and make the cake in paper cups - not those thin ones for regular cup cakes, but for drinks. This was an idea I found in more than one resources, so it seemed to be fine.

The recipe I was going to use was from an old cookbook that I bought like 15 years ago, and I also consulted several different recipe sites on the net. Although there was a variety of slightly different recipes, the one in my mind was a pretty basic recipe for plain chiffon cake, I thought.
It called for three herbs - rosemary, thyme, and basil. As I had happened to find lemon basil at the farmers' market the other day, I used them in place of regular Italian basil and I added zest and juice of a lime. The lime was also from the same vendor at the farmers' market was a bit strange one that had a bit ugly look yet bright orangy pulp, and did have a hint of orange taste (later a friend of mine suggested that it might have been kaffir lime, and that might have been it).

Chiffon cakes are made using vegetable oil, and this time my choice of oil was extra virgin olive oil - I had been sometime successful and other times not quite so in using olive oil in cakes, but I gave it a try anyways. The combination of herbs and lime somehow sounded as if they should go well with olive oil.

I tried to beat the egg yolk mixture and the egg white stiffly, and work as quick as I could so that the form wouldn't loose its air. Reducing the ingredients to half (using 2 yolks and 3 whites), it yielded 5 cups of cakes.


After 25 minutes of baking the cakes came out of the oven golden brown and risen proudly all the way up to the edge of the cups. I put them on a wire rack upside down and let cool. The last challenge in making chiffon cake might be to remove the cake from the pan; I have heard so many stories of sadly lost games of removing the chiffon cake intact. But in my case, this wasn't an issue because all I needed to do is just tearing the paper cup break, and the cakes came out no problem.



The texture of chiffon cake - light, fluffy, airly - is something you don't get to have from other kinds of cakes, and I realized how I had missed it for so long. My cakes tasted more of lime than herbs (I should have put more herbs), but were very refreshing and tasty nevertheless. Olive oil, although it had seemed to be overpowering while I was making the batter, turned out to have worked pretty well with this one. Although I served a slice with a scoop of ice cream once, I liked the cake better just as is.


Now I got a taste of success, I will be making more and more chiffon cakes - in paper cups!

old and new favorites

Thursday, August 19

For today's dinner I made my "signature" pumpkin salad and gingered pork with cheese, an old childhood favorite of mine.

The pumpkin salad has been the most frequently-appearing salad on our table here. Both he and I like it, and so does everyone else who has had it.

The pork, which I made for the first time in possible last 20 years or so, was one of the dishes my mother used to make every so often when I was a kid. Stir-fried pork flavored with grated fresh ginger and soy sauce is a very common dish in Japan, but this was with cheese - kids always like cheese, and I was no exception.

I have always believed that this is a dish for pork, and so I had taken the frozen pork out of freezer and thawed before I dropped a line to my mother just to make sure how to make it, and I came to realize the truth; my mother would, she said, make the dish with beef rather than pork. I didn't remember having it with beef, but she said she would use pork sometime but beef is better. And my mother is the one who wouldn't care for beef in gereral, which means that really must be better with beef... well, the pork had already been thawed for today, so I made it a go.

We would use very thin pieces of meat for this dish as we need to roll the cheese with them, but over here I don't find readily thinly-sliced beef or pork everywhere. So I bravely tried and sliced pork chops, only to have unevenly shaped pieces of meat (whatever). I anyways wrapped slices of mozzarella cheese with those pieces and ended up having four rolls. I carefully fried the rolls in a skillet trying to keep the shape, but somehow the cheese melted and ran out of the rolls, left a cavity in the rolls of pork. They sure weren't the way they were supposed to be, but even the run-away cheese was captured in the ginger sauce in the skillet, and we had it with pork in the end.


Years having been past and I am not a kid any longer, I still loved the dish; and so did he, who doesn't like pork much (and who remembered that my mother served us the same dish when we visited her earlier this year, and it was with beef).

For those who are interested in my two favorites, here are the recipes to share with you; please note that all the quantities are approximate, as I never measure the ingredients for this kind of dishes.

+++
My Signature Kabocha Pumpkin Salad


I first had this salad at one of my friends'. All I remembered was that there were grilled kabocha, roasted walnuts, grated parmigiano, and rocket salad, or better known as arugula in it, and I loved it at the first bite. Although I asked how to make it, I somehow forgot it and it wasn't until last year when I tried to reproduce it myself. It worked, and I have since made the salad in my way, even though it is not exactly the same as the one I had had.

Ingredients:

For topping:
1/2 lb. kabocha, trimmed (but not peeled), seeded, and cut into 3-5 mm (1/8-1/5 inch) slices
1/4 - 1/2 onion, preferably sweet onion (such as vidalia, maui), very thinly sliced
A fistful of walnuts, roasted and coarsely chopped
2 Tbs. grated parmigiano reggiano cheese, plus extra for garnish
1 Tbs. lemon juice
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for finishing
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For salad:
Mesculin salad mix or your choice of salad greens (I prefer to include arugula), rinsed and dried

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350F. To make the topping, spread the slices of kabocha in a single layer on a microwave-safe large plate. Wrap and microwave it for about 2-3 minutes, flip them over in 2 minutes into heating, if necessary (this is to reduce the oven-baking time, as kabocha takes long to cook). Transfer the kabocha to a non-stick cookie sheet (I use non-stick aluminum foil) and bake in the preheated oven until tender and crisp, or about 20-30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.

2. If using regular yellow onion, soak the slices in cold water for about 15-20 minutes so that they won't taste too strong. Squeeze excess water. Sweet onions don't need soaking.

3. Walnuts can be roasted aside with the pumpkin, but also be roasted in a toaster oven; in this case, spread the walnuts on a half of a piece of aluminum foil, and fold the foil into half so that walnuts were covered. Toast the covered nuts for 5-10 minutes. Chop and let cool.

4. In a bowl combine the onion, lemon juice, oil, walnuts, and cheese. Grind the pepper generously, and salt to taste (do not put too much salt, as the cheese is quite salty). Mix in the kabocha.

5. Spread the greens on a large plate and place the topping on top. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with more grated cheese (optional). Grind the pepper. Serve the topping and green together. Serves 2.

Note:
We probably make double the amount of topping and reserve the leftover (if any) in the fridge and have it next day.

Kabocha is a very common type of squash widely available in Japan, with dark green skin and bright orangy yellow flesh. Pumpkins generally available in the US are somehow different from this particular kind, and I have never tried this dish with other than kabocha, so I am not sure if it works.

+++
Gingered Pork Rolls with Cheese


Ingredients:

4 large very thin pieces pork (or 8 small pieces)
4 thick slices of cheese
1 Tbs. flour
4 Tbs. peeled and grated fresh ginger
1 Tbs. soy sauce or to taste
Vegetable oil for stir-frying

Directions:

1. Place a piece of cheese on each large piece (or 2 small pieces) of pork. Roll meat so cheese is completely enclosed. Dredge rolls with flour.

2. Heat the oil in a large fry pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the floured pork rolls on both sides until golden brown. NOTE: Pork MUST be cooked thoroughly.

3. Remove the fully cooked pork rolls to a plate. In the same pan, stir in the grated ginger and soy sauce at once and heat until the mixture start bubbling. Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the reserved rolls back in the pan and cover with the ginger sauce. Serve immediately with vegetables. Serves 2.

Note:
As I mentioned above, this can be made with beef as well.
At my family we would use Cheddar-based processed cheese, and this time I used mozzarella. Cheddar or Monterey Jack would also work.

August 20, 2004

fruit salad with attitude


Wednesday, August 18

It was a bit cooler today (compared to the past several days), and I made fruit salad. I don't often make fruit salad, but this isn't just an ordinary fruit salad; roasted fruit salad. Doesn't sound very summery, but it actually is - the recipe, by Trish Deseine in her book mes petits plats preferes (2002, Marabout), calls for peach, red plum, fig, and grape, all of which (except for grape, for which I don't know because I see grapes all year around) are in season now.

Luckily, I had found figs were on sale at one of my local stores (they are pretty expensive over here, specially those "imported" from California), so I took this chance and got all the fruits listed above, plus blackberries (they were on sale, too).
The fruit salad, as its name Salade de fruits rotis au beurre sale implies, is a "salad" of fruits roasted with salted butter. But I usually buy unsalted butter as I use butter almost exclusively in baking, so I just used the unsalted butter and simply sprinkled with French sea salt. I also substituted unrefined sugar for cassonade, a kind of French brown sugar that I couldn't find in my neiboughood.



A casserole of rinsed, pitted and cut up fruits sprinkled with sugar, butter, and salt went to the oven and cooked for about 20 minutes, and came out beautifully; the smell of slightly burnt and caramelized butter and sugar was so sweet and mellow I couldn't resist picking up some fruits, still sizzling hot, and popping them into my mouth... hhhhhot, and ssssweet. I instantly loved it.

Now, other than its own uniqueness for "fruit salad", another reason the recipe caught my eyes was a small note; as a serving suggestion, it mentioned good vanilla ice cream and creme anglais infused with laurel leaves. Laurel leaves for creme anglais? I read the line twice, and mildly startled with that idea. I had never heard of such a thing, but another recipe in the same book also uses bay leaves for poaching figs in port. I was being very curious and decided to give it a try.

Since I could not find a recipe for creme anglais infused with laurel, I just put a bay leaf in the milk for the cream. It was my first time to make creme anglais for the past ten years or so and I have to say I was being a bit nervous - and I messed up. I was being carefully trying not to have the cream curdled up, but it did; the recipe for creme anglais in the book used milk and cream, and no cornstarch, and I omitted cream - that could have been a factor. Anyways, as I couldn't bother to make another batch of creme anglais from scratch, I took a short cut and put the bay leaf in a very small amount of whole milk and added it to mascarpone cheese to make some cream thing. Good enough.


I thought the salad was best eaten hot right out of the oven. Although it can just be reheated later, it could get a little soggy over time. Either way, it is definitely better hot/warm, as it tasted a bit too heavy to me when it was cooled to room temperature, perhaps because of butter. Hot dessert with cold sauce (or vice versa) is always my favorite, and it was so with this one - sizzling hot fruits with cold cream sauce made a hearty dessert, even though it might not sound so appealing to those of you who are currently suffering through a truly unbearable summer....

By the way, laurel miraculously worked good with the sweet cheese cream (and the bodgy creme anglais as well, I tasted it a bit before saying goodbye to it). I am sure the sald would have been just as good with cream without bayleaf (such as vanilla ice cream), but a slight scent of laurel was really pleasant and I think it was nice.

August 19, 2004

close enough


Monday, August 16

It was another hot and stuffy afternoon. I wanted to have something nice and cold, sweet and smooth - quick. I was thinking about making something else, but ended up with this one: cream cheese baked custard. I had found the recipe (in Japanese) several days before, and was very excited, as cream cheese baked custard is one of my favorite sweets from Cheesecake Factory (in Japanese - it has nothing to do with the American chain of the same name). I had since wanted to try this.
It was a very standard recipe of baked custard, or creme caramel (except it doesn't use caramel and cream cheese was added), and looked a fairly easy recipe, which was great for an occasion like this, when I want something quick.

Like I just mentioned, it was really an easy one. I creamed the cheese (I microwaved it for a bit), added egg yolks and sugar, then milk, vanilla, and liquor - that was it. In the recipe, both heavy cream and milk were used, but I didn't have cream in the fridge so just used whole milk, in a slightly lesser amount than that said in the recipe for the cream and milk combined, to avoid the custard getting too thin. I also used amaretto instead of rum in the recipe.


After 20 minutes of cooking (in a baine-marie, or "water bath" in the oven), the surface of custard in ramekins didn't seem to have all settled, looking still runny - that is the way it should be. Straggling hard with the urge to poke a spoon in the custard, I managed to stick the ramekins in the freezer (yes, freezer, because I wanted them chilled as soon as possible).

I was being patient for what seemed like 30-40 minutes, after which I dragged the custard out of the freezer, pour some thick maple syrup over it, and finally dug in.
It was very smooth and light, sweet to rights. Cream cheese wasn't so pronounced, but I definitely tasted it (he didn't, though).

It was really good, but would have been richer (and even better) with heavy cream, I imagined... next time, I would use heavy cream (or maybe half & half) and add black sesame taste, to make it like sesame cheese baked custard, which is my all-time favorite from Cheesecake Factory (I love it even more than the plain ones - by the way, the ramekins are actually what they put their cream cheese custard at Cheesecake Factory; you pay about $3-4 and get a dainty, plus this cute ramekin will be yours! Not a bad deal, is it?)!



P.S. The custard had thickened its taste by the next day. It got a lot richer and tasted definitely more of cream cheese. I liked it a lot better that way.

August 16, 2004

homage to the late great chef


Sunday, August 15

Yesterday I went to farmers' market and bought a lot of shiny summer vegetable, with ratatouille in my mind. This southern French dish is something that I strongly associate with summer, probably because of the fact it uses aubergine, courgettes, and tomatoes - all summer vegetable, even if they are available year around nowadays.
Few years ago when I shared an apartment with my sister, we would make ratatouille throughout the summer to satiety - well, in reality we never got tired of it. It is, being so simple and delicious, something that we would always go back to.

I have not made ratatouille for years since then, but this year I thought of making it again. There are a whole bunch of different recipes for ratatouille, but I used to look up several different recipes and settle down to an easiest way; cut and saute the vegetable with olive oil and garlic, taste with salt and pepper as well as herbs de province, and simmer for 20-30 minutes. It couldn't go wrong.

But this time several separate issues caught my mind at one time, that eventually led me to the decision to try out another recipe, one by Julia Child. It must have been partly because I learned of her death a few days back, but even before that event I had a couple of occasions where I came across "Julia Child's ratatouille". It was almost like a magical set of keywords - there has to be something that tells me to try her recipe, I was convinced.
To tell you the truth, I know little about this past master. I have seen some of her recipes here and there, but hers appeared to me very complicated and time-consuming; I used to try a lot of fancy dishes many years ago, but I have steered clear of anything too complicated recently. That may be why I have never bothered to take a closer look at her works.
For this reason, I don't own any of her book, including her legendary Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume 1 in which her famous ratatouille is included. So I got on the net and searched for it, to find two basically same but somewhat different adopted versions (this and this).
Now unfortunately I don't know which version is authentic or closer to her genuine recipe, but in both of the versions, you basically saute vegetables separately, and put them in a casserole making layers, without mixing everything up. I had known that her ratatouille recipe was quite labor-intensive, but it really looked like it.

One might regard it as a disfavor to Julia Child, but I used a bit different ingredients. I used: yellow squash (that funky-looking yellow fellow) in addition to the common zucchini, because I wanted to try one and thought it would make a nice accent in color; red bell peppers in addition to regular green bell peppers, as I like red peppers in ratatouolle; maui sweet onions instead of yellow onions, because I like them; canned whole tomatoes along with fresh roma tomatoes, since I didn't have enough of fresh ones; and fresh thyme in addition to parsley, because I like thyme in ratatouille. Well, now it may seem to be a rather different dish, but I did follow the procedure - slice up the vegetable thinly (I would just cut up in bigger chunks), and peel, seed, and juice the tomatoes (I would never bother it otherwise), saute them separately (well, I worked on eggplant and zucchini together - a bit of cheating, I admit), layer the vegetable carefully, and cooked for just short of 30 minutes. There was nothing really difficult, but it was certainly very time-consuming, especially for something supposedly easy like ratatouille.


But I understood all the reasons when I tasted it when it was done. It was different - totally different from any ratatouille I had ever made or tasted. Each slice of vegetable kept its integrity, as if it had been refusing to be mixed up with other vegetables. All at the same time, the dish as a whole had the integrity, too, with all the vegetables were well coordinated, and in harmoney. All the labor did make a huge difference.

I served my ratatouille with a small bit of basil leaves on top (I forgot to put them before taking a picture) and ate with plain cooked rice. The ratatouille impressed him as much as it did me so, and he instantly became a fan of this dish.
Now the only problem is, since it was his first time eating ratatouille, and the first thing always set the standard; he had the very good (I think I can even claim it "the best") ratatouille as the first thing, it might well disappoint him to some extent if I make a common, easier version next time....

August 15, 2004

sometime you should just stick to the recipe



Friday, August 13

It was my first time to bake some cake using tofu. It is, of course, such a staple in Japanese cuisine and I love it like most people I know back there, but sweet stuff using tofu is somehow not as common as here in the States, as far as I know. I have never been particularly into using tofu in baking, but the other day I stumbled across this recipe (in Japanese) - tofu muffin. This one uses no egg, milk, or butter (but does use vegetable oil) and uses kinako, or soy powder, soy milk, and tapioca starch, along with kinugoshi dofu, or silken (soft) tofu. A bit unusual, I thought.

I had bought tapioca starch especially for this recipe (it was in quite a big bag, and I used only a bit of it; I don't know how to use up the rest - maybe make some PortugueseBrazilian cheese rolls?) and silken tofu - or so I thought. When I cut open the package of tofu, it looked pretty firm; most of tofu available in my neighborhood is predominantly extra firm, which is basically not for eating as is. This one, although not so firm, was still pretty firm for kinugoshi, and it actually wasn't as it turned out; I picked up a wrong one. The package read "medium firm (regular)", and that was what it was. I messed up.
But I had already opened the package and was ready to make muffins, I just went on. According to the recipe, if you drain and puree 200g (approx. 7oz) of silken tofu and add 1/2 tablespoonful of lemon juice and about 2 tablespoonful of soy milk, it should make about 180cc (approx. 6 fluid ounces, or 3/4 cup). In my measuring cup, however, the pureed tofu already measured more than 3/4 cup - so I removed a bit of the pureed tofu and added lemon juice and soy milk.
The batter, with the dry ingredients added, was extremely dry and I ended up with adding some extra lemon juice and mixing probably more than I was supposed to. Things weren't looking quite bright.

The muffins that came out of oven looked fine (although the walnut bits as a topping were burnt), but their texture was pretty firm.


I could attribute it to a few factors: first, I used firm tofu instead of soft one; second, I used all-purpose flour instead of pastry flour; and third, I overmixed the batter, which might have been as a result of the former two. I usually use all-purpose flour even when using a Japanese recipe that most often uses pastry flour, which has a lesser content of gluten, and sometime it is fine, while other times it does make the cake a bit too firm, like this time. The muffins were far from good, but maybe I should give it a second try using the right ingredients, before blaming the recipe for the failure.

a poorly planed dinner


Thursday, August 12

Okay, it was cancelled at the last minute, and today was the day to invite the guest over for dinner.

Before deciding what to make for today, I had asked him to ask them what they cannot (or don't want to) eat; this is something I always consider whenever feeding someone for the first time. I might not be able to always make them something they love, but at least I want to avoid making something they cannot eat or even see.
Unfortunately, he didn't seem to have asked them about it, but I guessed, considering there were meat, fish, and vegetable when we barbecued the other day and everyone seemed to eat a lot, that anything not so eccentric should be okay.

Originally, we were going to make salad, herb-roasted vegetable, porc au cidre, and barbecue chicken. But we had already made two of them just a couple days before, and thought that the same pork dish would be too much (for us), while the salad seemed fine. Then we rethought about the menu and decided that we would make orange-flavored chicken instead of apple pork, and barbecue beef instead of chicken, and the vegetable dishes as planed. We were all set.

We went out to buy some of ingredients that were missing, and came home to start cooking right away. While he prepared orange marinade for the chicken and cut up the vegetable, I prepared beef (half with barbecue and the rest with salt & pepper) and dessert.

A little past 5:30 the guest came. He was a great host who served a little snack and drinks, kept a conversation with his friend and his wife, while at the same time entertained kids with balloon animals. I, on the other hand, did the last-minute rush in the kitchen, occasionally chatting with the guests.

It was at this point when the truth came out. Our guests for this evening, it turned out, would not eat meat except for the father. It was only for us (and well, the father) that they had beef and pork the other night; mother and kids did not eat them. What a disaster, I thought - we had a whole lot of meat but not fish! I felt so bad and so embarrassed. So did him, naturally, who hadn't bothered to ask them about their food preference. It was too late, however, and we had to serve what we had - they were being so nice telling us not to worry, and "we can survive with all the vegetable and rice".

And they did, to my great relief. We roasted a lot of vegetable and it disappeared in seconds (I didn't eat the vegetable at all), and they gave us a lot of raves. The chicken and beef, both of which turned out pretty good, were quickly gone, too (I think he and his friend tried to live on the meat, saving the vegetable for the rest of us). We were all stuffed, and ready for the dessert.

I put the pan in the oven right after I had some food at table with the guests. I made nectarine tart, an application of the peach tart mentioned in Amanda Hesser's book Cooking for Mr. Latte: a food lover's courtship, with recipes (2003, W.W. Norton & Co.) again. It was an easy recipe that tells you to mix up the ingredients of the tart dough directly in a pan, arrange the fruit wedges, and cover them with a layer of crumble-like batter.
This time I used nectarine instead of peach, as I couldn't find readily good peach. I mixed two kinds of nectarine; white and "honeysweet" nectarine. I had already tried white ones, but honeysweet nectarine was a first-timer. They looked pretty much like regular nectarine inside and out; the flesh might have been a beet more orangy. They were very ripe and sweet - I was almost tempted to use the honeysweet kind for the entire tart, as the white ones weren't rightly ripe (some part was still not ripe while other part was rotten, stuff like that).
It sure was easy to make, but took a little long time to bake, especially when we had tired and bored children. The father almost suggested they should go home, but the wife shrugged off; "we are having dessert!"



And here comes the tart. It might have been a bit underbaked (I felt I shouldn't keep them wait any longer - I took it out of oven at 30 minutes, rather than 35-40 minutes as instructed in the recipe), but looked totally fine, and tasted entirely good with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. An 8-inch pan went almost empty with a small piece left, and everyone was happy - including kids and myself.


It was nevertheless bad that we actually served something they couldn't eat in such a major portion, and we promised we would make up for that.